Today I’m delighted to welcome my good friend, the award-winning author Lucienne Boyce, to tell us about her wonderful eighteenth-century historical mystery novel To the Fair Land. When I first read it, I was captivated from the opening page by the vivid sense of place, which travels from London to Bristol to the mythical “Fair Land” and back again.
I’ve gone on to enjoy her subsequent Dan Foster series of Bow Street Runner mysteries, which to date includes three novels and a novella, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one. Today, however, Lucienne is going to take us on a voyage to the mystical land at the heart of her first novel.
Lucienne, welcome to my blog! Usually the first question I ask my “Travels with my Book” guests is to pinpoint their book’s setting on the globe, but in your case, this is a little tricky – can you please explain why?
To The Fair Land is about, and partly set in, the Fair Land – but I can only pinpoint a theoretical location for it, since it is a mythical land!
Its existence is based on theories of the Great Southern Continent, a great land mass in the southern hemisphere which fifth-century mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras argued must exist in order to balance the land masses in the north.
For the next 2,000 years, map makers confidently included it on their maps, and explorers from many nations went looking for it – Dutch, French, Portuguese, and British. In the seventeenth century the Somerset buccaneer William Dampier tried to find it. He ended up at Australia – then called New Holland by the Dutch explorers who got there before him – which he thought a pretty poor place.
In 1764 the British Admiralty sent John Byron – Foulweather Jack Byron – to the Pacific but he didn’t find anything and some people thought he didn’t try very hard. After him was Samuel Wallis in 1766, who reported sighting the continent.
Then in 1768, the Admiralty sent Britain’s most famous navigator, Captain James Cook, to look for the Great Southern Continent. Cook’s voyage on the Endeavour lasted three years and he didn’t find the Continent. He undertook a second voyage between 1772 and 1775, and it was on that voyage that he demonstrated once and for all – by sailing across it – that there was no Great Southern Continent. But in 1772 his second voyage had only just begun, and it was still possible to believe that the Continent existed.
And that’s where To The Fair Land comes in.
Please whet readers’ appetites for the voyage with to the Fair Land with an overview of your book.
To The Fair Land is a historical mystery with elements of fantasy. When, in 1789, struggling writer Ben Dearlove attempts to track down the author of an anonymous, best-selling book about a fictitious journey to the South Seas, he is caught up in a quest much more dangerous than the search for a reclusive author. Before long he finds himself pitted against people who will lie, steal and even kill to stop him discovering the truth abut the voyage of the Miranda.
What makes the Fair Land such a great setting for your story?
Placing a fantasy setting within a researched historical context is a way of reflecting the period in which the book is set and the elements of that history to which I was drawn.
It was a time when our world was still largely unknown, when charts and maps had huge blank spaces in them, and men undertook epic journeys with nothing but four inches of wood between them and destruction. It’s a time when the existence of the Fair Land was still possible.
People believed in the Great Southern Continent on no firmer evidence than that a Greek philosopher had made it up.
It was a myth, yet people still risked their lives looking for it.
The eighteenth century may have been a great age of exploration, but that rational, scientific quest for knowledge was underpinned by dreams and imaginings. That says a great deal about the power of myth!
But the dreams of distant lands were not only about discovery. These exploratory voyages were also motivated by greed and acquisitiveness, and culminated in a devastating process of colonisation and exploitation of other lands.
So the fantasy of the Fair Land is a way of exploring these ideas. It’s also a way of contrasting the values of more technologically advanced societies with the people they look upon as their inferiors.
And, of course, as it’s a fantasy, I can make it what I like!
Another question I always ask guests in this spot, which is not as straightforward for you to answer, is what is your relationship with the country in your novel and how much of your life have you spent there?
I have spent many a happy hour in the Fair Land in my imagination – though it’s tinged with sadness too as I know that the future for the country and its people is bleak since its discovery by “civilisation”.
In fact, I have always thought I might one day write a sequel to To The Fair Land continuing the story of some of its main characters, and exploring what happens next in the Fair Land. [Yes please, Lucienne!]
To The Fair Land is also set in the literary world of London with its coffee houses, book shops and theatres; and in and around the taverns and quays of Bristol. I lived in London for many years, and have walked in many of the places my characters inhabit. I live in Bristol now, and its rich maritime history was a major inspiration for To The Fair Land.
What is special about the people native to the Fair Land?
To The Fair Land has its roots in the tradition of utopias, dystopias and mythical lands that mankind has dreamed of for centuries – the island of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s Herland, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, William Morris’s Wondrous Isles, C S Lewis’s Narnia, El Dorado, Camelot…
The Fair Land is a utopia. Its people are strong and healthy, not distorted and crippled by industrial labour, poor housing, starvation or subsistence wages. They are generous, peaceful, and ignorant of the ‘arts’ of war. Their attitudes to property are the opposite of the rapacious explorers who seek to colonise their land. If they argue over property, it is “not for the right to possess, but for the right to give away”. In London, Ben Dearlove sees children begging; in the Fair Land no child is left to go hungry or uncared for – an adult “would no more allow the child of another to suffer than they would allow their own”. They live in a beautiful setting, which is reflected in their love of music, story telling and dancing.
I did say it was a fantasy!
Where is your latest book set?
My latest book is Death Makes No Distinction, the third Dan Foster Mystery. Dan is a Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist, and the story is set in late eighteenth-century London. Dan is investigating two murders, one of a former mistress of the Prince of Wales in her Mayfair mansion, the other of an unnamed beggar woman found beaten to death in a tavern out-house in Holborn. His investigations take him into both the richest and foulest parts of the city.
The Bow Street Runners of London – or Principal Officers as they preferred to be called – often investigated crimes in other parts of the country. The first Dan Foster Mystery, Bloodie Bones, is set in Somerset, where Dan is sent to investigate the murder of a local gamekeeper during anti-land enclosure protests.
In The Butcher’s Block Dan’s investigation of the murder of a fellow police officer takes him from Southwark, London (involving that huge journey to the south of the river!), to Sheerness in Kent, and back to London.
The Fatal Coin, a prequel novella to the Dan Foster Mysteries, is set in Staffordshire on and around Cannock Chase, as Dan goes on the trail of a highwayman and forger. It’s very much part of the landscape of my childhood, as I was born and brought up in Wolverhampton.
Where will your next book be set?
I’m currently working on the next Dan Foster Mystery, which will be set on Anglesey where Dan goes to bring back a smuggler charged with the murder of a Kentish exciseman.
EXTRACT OF TO THE FAIR LAND
To the Fair Land opens in a London theatre. In the eighteenth century going to a play was not always the tame past-time it is now. In this scene, Ben Dearlove is at Covent Garden Theatre watching The Life and Death of Captain Cook, a play about the (British version of) the death of the nation’s hero, Captain Cook, in Hawaii.
The Captain flung back his head and announced at length that he was proud to die in the service of his country. Then he ran through a couple of the foe for heroic good measure. His screaming enemies flung themselves upon him and he went down in a flurry of clubs and spears.
The curtain descended and pandemonium broke out. Wailing women flung themselves into one another’s arms. Men were not ashamed to be seen wiping their eyes, or blowing their noses on their sleeves. The spectators in the galleries applauded so enthusiastically it was a wonder there were no broken arms. The theatre echoed with cries of “Cook for England!”, “Bravo Captain Cook!”, and “God Save the King!”
Inflamed by the atmosphere, the front rows rushed the stage, where the boldest and most agile attempted to climb over the spikes, perhaps intending to slaughter the Hawaiians. It was a hot, affecting moment, and Ben and Campbell were on their feet with the rest.
“I’m off backstage before someone else gets there!” said a voice in Ben’s left ear. “Captain Cook was a fool,” hissed another in his right.
“What?” He turned in confusion from side to side.
“You know, the girl the Captain turned down. Catch me turning her away from my bed!” That was Campbell to Ben’s left.
“Captain Cook’s discoveries! A fool’s discoveries – little islands and barren shores. I wouldn’t give you that for Captain Cook’s discoveries!”
The thin woman to his right was a picture of madness, talking, gesticulating, her voice growing shriller and louder. Ben frowned a warning, willing her to be quiet, but she was oblivious to all hints of danger.
“What did she say?” shrieked a female in the next row.
“Why, she says Captain Cook’s a fool!” rejoined her gossip.
“D’ye hear that, gen’lemen?” This to their escorts. “’Ere, Mr Timmins, ask her what she means by it.”
“I ask her? Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
There was no need to ask her anything. She had no thought of keeping her heresies to herself. “Captain Cook found nothing, nothing at all… yet they make a hero of him. A hero of that blunderer!”
“Lookee, miss, don’t you go mullironing a brave and a gallant gen’leman in my ’earing,” cried the first woman.
“No, shut your mouth, you damned bitch!” added Mr Timmins.
“Ay, Mrs Harridan, you can keep your pinions to yourself,” put in a gen’leman in the row behind, leaning forward to give the woman a shove in the small of her back. She stumbled and looked about her in bewilderment. It was only natural for the Timmins ladies to feel that she committed a further outrage with her “obstropolous” look. They appealed to the pit at large: “Did you hear what she said?”
“Yes, and I saw her laugh with the murdering savages.”
“Who does she think she is, coming in and upsetting decent people?”
“Give her a ducking in the water trough!”
“No, roll her in the kennels.”
Heedlessly, Ben’s neighbour babbled on. “He turned back too soon. He didn’t find it. What a mercy is a fool! What would have happened to them all if he had?”
Ben grasped her arm. “Madam, for your own sake, be quiet!”
An orange hit her in the back and she staggered into him. He spied another piece of fruit flying through the air and put his arm around her to ward it off. He missed and it caught her on the shoulder before smashing on the boards at her feet. She looked down at the pulpy mess in astonishment. Gradually it dawned on her that she was under attack. He felt her sudden, panicky resistance to his encircling arm. Before he could assure her that he was not one of the crowd, Campbell tugged at his sleeve.
“Come on, Ben!”
“I can’t,” he said helplessly.
“Why not? Od’s bobs, leave her!”
“They’ll tear her apart.”
“It’s only a Billingsgate fight. Leave them to it.”
Doubtfully, Ben relinquished the woman. Unexpectedly deprived of his support she slumped onto the bench. Campbell was already pushing his way out of the pit. Ben followed. A raucous howl made him look back.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT LUCIENNE BOYCE
Lucienne has a terrific website featuring lots of background material related to her books. It is also addresses her other writing passion: the history of the women’s suffrage, about which she’s written two books. She also issues a very well-presented occasional newsletter featuring more interesting information. What’s more, when you sign up for her newsletter, you will receive a free ebook The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign – visit https://www.lucienneboyce.com/newsletter/.
Connect with Lucienne here:
Where to buy To the Fair Land
All of Lucienne Boyce’s books are available in ebook and paperback, apart from The Fatal Coin novella, which is only in ebook.
For a list of places you can buy To the Fair Land, visit its page on her website here: https://www.lucienneboyce.com/to-the-fair-land/
Suzie Grogan takes us on a grand tour in the footsteps of poet John Keats
PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
- To Fiji with B M Allsopp
- To the Caribbean with Helen Hollick
- To Europe and Roma Nova with Alison Morton
- To Egypt with Carol Cooper
Or take a trip to the Cotswolds any time, through the pages of my own novels and novelettes!